Mississipi Million

The Great River Rowed

A tough one, Part 2….

A tough one, Part 2….

Posted by on Sep 18, 2014

Today, as you may know from reading part 1, we celebrated reaching halfway on our odyssey down the Mississippi. This was a major milestone, physically and psychologically and I was delighted to have made it this far, helped every day by Paddy and the team. But given that this blog aims to be a true reflection of our journey, I have a confession to make – I am really, really tired and on my uppers. I woke after a difficult night, worrying about the fundraising and how I can do more, really needing more sleep, but 06.00 came around fast and as there is no provision for breakfast, we had to make some for the troops and I found myself cooking porridge, joylessly and grumpy – not my usual demeanour.

We scoured the weather forecasts per usual and all were in agreement. Wind south or south-east at a negligible 2-5 mph, largely overcast with sun coming through after midday. How very, very wrong they were.

Because we were staying 45 minutes plus one ferry from our start point, we were not on the water until 09.00 and immediately there was a strong, cold headwind to greet our first strokes. We had 32 miles to cover and we pushed into the wind, all largely in good heart but with me knowing I was only at 80% at best. I felt sorry for James Whitworth, who was with me as he had trained so hard and was exhibiting terrific form, especially as he had been a complete beginner before taking up the challenge.

The wind continued and began gusting and building. 2 mph, my arse….. The only accurate point was the suggestion of an overcast sky, which darkened by the minute, matched by the increasing wind. We stopped and opened our champagne to toast the halfway point of our trip – a very happy break. And then it started to drizzle. Then it rained a little harder and then it hammered down on us, unrelenting, as we strained to keep pushing into the wind. Olivia, bless her, was very cold and had taken the “Paddy option” of wearing every available stitch of clothing, plus two life jackets and a sheepskin. Then her detailed map blew away, then we had to remove our flagpole as it was causing the boat to slew as we rowed. James had some layers on, I had only a tee shirt and no shoes, as the weather forecast had said it would be warm.

The rain abated for a short while, before resuming over our last 15 miles. By now, I was very weary but had no option than to keep going and get it over with as quickly as possible. Because we wanted to shorten tomorrow into St Louis down to 30 miles, we had arranged to go a little further today and on we plugged. Our last straight was 7 miles, but directly into the wind, which by now was building standing waves. We made towards the shore for some, any, protection and although we found a little, there was no stream, so progress was slow, exacerbated by lots of huge pieces of driftwood. This meant that Olivia and Maeve, the two stalwart coxes, had to “slalom” along this last stretch which in turn meant that each time they jammed on the rudder, we slowed down. It was agonising…..

We finished and I sat, slumped over my sculls as the others unloaded the boats. I congratulated James and Stephen, much, much more than stalwart rowers, and hugged Paddy. Then I sat down on a rock and could not really move.

I have one more day tomorrow of around 30 miles into St Louis, then I have two rest days. I am, frankly, in real need of a respite as I am close to my limit right now and feeling pretty emotionally drained too. I am hugely envious of Paddy as his wife Mel arrives this afternoon from Australia to join us for the rest of the trip. I so wish Julie was here too as I need some help….

I apologise for not being “up”, but I would be lying if I said anything else. I will do my very best to rest and recover, but just now I want to curl up and sleep for a week…..

This river is testing my limits, but I will never give in.


  1. Hang in there John – You have a lot of friends thinking about you and your challenge, and we are all full of admiration for what you are doing!
    Lots of love from all the Olsens

  2. Keep your chin up John! We are with you in spirit everyday via this blog! This is a noble cause – keep fighting and rowing for the kids! -Deb

  3. John
    Press on. It’s a team on the fundraising, not just you
    Together we can do this
    All our love
    Mike and Kate

  4. I am amazed that you have accomplished what you have so far. You are a human”bean” as the boys used to say when they were “little”!! There are loads of folk behind you this side of the pond. We are so proud of The Team. Love from us all.

  5. Get some rest my friend. Feel for you.

  6. John.

    Have courage, you ARE doing an AMAZING job, both in your role as a rower and as a driving force for this project. Try and let someone else take the strain for a few days and know that your strength will return. You are an inspiration to us all!

    Juliette x

  7. I just re-read Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and thought of you. I’d say you are now at the same point as Santiago, the fisherman, two days into his fight with the huge Marlin. Hang on John, even though you’re body is giving up. There is much, much more in the deep well of human grit and determination, and yours is as deep as they get.

  8. The message is clear – you have loads of people supporting you willing you all on; you can do it. Let the team worry about the fundraising and logistics etc for a bit, take what strength you feel you have left to dig down and find those reserves we all know you have. You’re over halfway now – what a fantastic achievement.
    We’re all rooting for you – just wish I could come and cox for a bit. St Louis is round the corner. Enjoy the rest.

  9. Hang in there John! Our hearts are with you every mile of your journey. You are not alone and you can do this! While we can’t be with ou physically, we join you in spirit and follow along, looking forward to every post and picture on the blog to see how you are. We love ya! Try to get a little rest soon.

  10. Congratulations on reaching the halfway mark on your amazing journey down the Mississippi River. Everybody at the US Right To Play office is so inspired by you and your team. Looking forward to celebrating with you in New Orleans!

  11. Mate , just think of it as a Skiff marathon, your have just turned at the top of the Desborough cut , and it is all down hill on the way home now !

  12. Head up John! It would be a very, very strange sensation indeed for me to sit in a boat with you in a couple of weeks time and for me to be the one to be pulling you along, so hope you get back to your usual perky self very quickly. Had another push on the sponsorship, I’ve had fantastic responses because your adventure has captured so many imaginations and its such a great cause, so there is a big tailwind behind you on that score too.

    Pick and lean, boys. Pick and lean.

  13. Dear John

    Stick at it. Sorry not to have written for a while but I have been snowed under. Keep it all going – thinking of you lots. I am sure it is incredibly tough (I know I couldn’t do it) but keep at it – you are doing really well. All downhill from now on as well, I guess…!

    St. Paul’s tomorrow and the final part of the centenary RCRUFC celebrations (ORs match). Song for now = Route 66 (Chuck Berry or the Stones – your choice).

    Best wishes as always -


  14. Pritch, Paddy and team,
    Well done, it is amazing what you are doing and we are in awe of your strength and perseverance. You can do it! We will do all we can back home on the fundraising.

  15. Hey mate if it was easy you wouldn’t be doing it!

    I think I speak for all when I say we really salute the depth of your openness and honesty, coupled with massive respect and admiration for what you’re doing. Don’t forget though that there’s a whole Mississippi Challenge Crew with you – both for pulling and for fundraising!

    Looking forward to getting out with you and Paddy next month – Derek and I going for a long paddle on Sunday.

  16. Rest, refuel, rehydrate. Control what you can control and know that what you have done so far proves that you have the capability and fortitude to succeed. Sending thoughts and best wishes to you and the whole team from a distance.

  17. Keep swinging along. Coming to join you and to help with fundraising too.

  18. Pritch you and The Padstet have embarked on an enormous adventure lots of us are inspired by what you have so achieved so just take the next stroke and worry about the one are that then you knew there was going to be times when you would have to go inside so just take the next f#€king stroke.

  19. What you and your crew are doing is incredible. Keep going. We’re all cheering you on, even if you can’t hear us. And you’re an amazing writer too. Can’t wait for each day’s blog post. X

  20. Looking Good, John.
    Fantastic cause and something you should be rightly proud of.
    Keep on truckin’ (or whatever the equivalent rowing term is)

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